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What is Gingivitis?

Gingivitis. You may have heard this term on toothpaste or mouthwash commercials, or perhaps even as a side effect of certain medications, but what exactly is gingivitis? 

If your gums are red and swollen and tend to bleed easily, you may have gingivitis, the earliest stage of gum disease. The good news is gingivitis is a condition you can treat and prevent with a regular dental routine of brushing and flossing, combined with annual dental exams and cleanings. 

Introduction to Gingivitis

The word gingivitis includes “-itis,” which means “inflammation.” The first part of the term comes from the Latin word for gums, gingivae. Hence, the diagnosis of gingivitis means inflammation of the gums. 

Other symptoms of gingivitis include:

  • Red, inflamed gums
  • Sensitive gums
  • Gums that bleed easily when you brush or floss
  • Bad breath

Gingivitis is a mild form of gum disease, classified by red gums that are sensitive to the touch, in contrast to healthy gums, which are pink and fit closely to the teeth. For those with gingivitis, the gums are inflamed and red, and they often recede from the teeth, giving the appearance that the sufferer’s teeth have grown longer because the gums have receded.

What Causes Gingivitis?

Typically gingivitis is caused by poor oral hygiene. Specifically, this means that the sufferer does not brush twice a day, floss regularly, and receive regular dental checkups. 

When regular teeth care isn’t taken, plaque can form and build up on the tooth surface, especially where the gums meet the teeth. 

Plaque is a sticky substance that forms on your teeth when the bacteria in your mouth come in contact with sugar and starchy foods. Foods that prompt your oral bacteria to produce excess plaque include: 

  • Milk
  • Pasta
  • Bread
  • Juice
  • Sugary and starchy foods

Brushing and flossing daily can remove that plaque from your teeth and, in turn, keep your gums healthy and pink. 

However, if the plaque is not removed daily, it builds up quickly and turns into tartar. Tartar can collect bacteria and make it even harder to remove the plaque. Only dental cleanings by a professional can remove tartar buildup. 

Once the plaque and tartar buildup, it irritates the base of the teeth at the gum line (also called the gingiva). Eventually, the gum tissue becomes swollen and inflamed, leading to gingivitis. 

Who is at Risk for Gingivitis?

Anyone with poor dental hygiene can develop gingivitis, but some factors can put you more at risk for the disease.

  • Hormone changes, frequently associated with pregnancy, birth control, and menstrual cycles, can increase your risk for gingivitis.
  • Poor diet and nutrition, especially for those with a Vitamin C deficiency. 
  • Medications, especially those that treat seizures and high blood pressure, frequently list gum disease and gingivitis as a side effect.
  • Individuals who smoke or chew tobacco are at a higher risk for developing gingivitis. 
  • Conditions, diseases, and treatments that decrease immunity including HIV/AIDS, cancer treatments, and leukemia. 

Negative Effects: Is Gingivitis Serious?

While gingivitis can be uncomfortable, aesthetically unattractive, and sometimes cause powerful bad breath, it can also lead to other more serious dental conditions. Early detection of gingivitis, when it affects the tops of your gums, can be treated to stop the spread before it becomes a more serious condition. 

Periodontitis, classified as inflammation of areas around the teeth, is another gum disease that is much more difficult to treat and more painful than gingivitis. Periodontitis damages all the tissue around your teeth, leading to tooth decay, tooth loss, and even bone loss if left untreated.

It is much better for your wallet and especially for your health and well-being to treat gingivitis and stop it in its tracks before it can progress. Plus, this is an uncomfortable and sometimes painful condition.

This much more serious disease is dangerous and can lead to many other issues, like gum disease, gum rot, tooth loss, and surgery.

How Can I Prevent Gingivitis?

The number one thing you can do to prevent gingivitis is practicing consistent oral hygiene, including brushing with a soft-bristled toothbrush twice daily and flossing once daily. 


When brushing your teeth, do not neglect your gums or tongue, and be gentle on yourself—no harsh scrubbing or violent strokes. Make sure to brush your teeth for at least ninety seconds, getting every part of your mouth.


The other piece of daily oral hygiene is flossing. Whether you choose to use disposable floss picks or a traditional spool of floss, it’s important to ensure you floss between each tooth. Also, make sure to bring the floss down to the gumline using a zig-zag motion and then back up; this is especially important for the teeth in the back. 

Regular Dental Checkups

Combined with daily brushing and flossing, the best way to prevent gingivitis is to visit your dentist for regular dental checkups and cleanings. It is recommended that you visit your dentist every six months for a thorough teeth cleaning that removes long-term plaque buildup with special care given to the gum line. 

During the routine exam, the dentist can assess your oral health, whether or not you’re brushing and flossing regularly, and whether your teeth show signs of gingivitis or other diseases. 

Gingivitis is reversible if caught in the early stages, so a thorough cleaning and continued care at home can reverse the signs. 

A regular six-month checkup will likely include:

  • X-rays
  • Mouth cancer check
  • Check for tooth decay and gum disease
  • Teeth cleaning
  • Flossing
  • Check the status of any fillings and other dental work

Final Thoughts

If you are at risk for gingivitis or think you may have symptoms, our team of professional dentists and hygienists at Family Dental Health Center can help. Our office strives to create a comfortable environment for our patients. 

For over 40 years, we have educated patients and provided quality personalized care with the latest dental technology. 

Call us today for an appointment; we can work as your partner to ensure healthy teeth and gums for years to come.